The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Hush" Dietrich Bonhoeffer Says ... Or How to Survive the Age of Debate

It seems ever more obvious we are living in an age and culture of debate. The twin arts of listening or conversation have withered on the vine, replaced with snippy comebacks, loud pontifications, shouted accusations, intractable positions, and litigious populations. For example, the other day I was asked my opinion on an area where I have some expertise. Much to my dismay, once the opinion was given, since it didn't agree with the ideas of those who had asked, they immediately attempted to start a debate. I reminded them they had asked for my opinion and insisted I was not interested in debate. They were not interested in listening once their point of view had be challenged. I ended the debate abruptly and left.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has some advice for surviving the age of debate from his book Life Together. Bonhoeffer has plenty of credibility for providing advice on this thorny issue. He was a Christian minister and young seminary professor running an illegal seminary in Nazi Germany. He knew how to navigate difficult waters and created a peaceful community in the midst of atrocity and warfare.

To live more peacefully in community with others, Bonhoeffer suggests:

"Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words." For this, Bonhoeffer references James 3:2, "He who holds his tongue in check controls both mind and body."

There are benefits to holding one's tongue. Bonhoeffer states:

"When this discipline of the tongue is practiced right from the beginning, each individual will make a matchless discovery. He [or she ... you see when Bonhoeffer wrote this his seminary was a men's only organization reflecting the times he lived in] will be able to cease from constantly scrutinizing the other person, judging him [or her], condemning him [or her], putting him [oh, you get the idea] in his particular place where he can gain ascendancy over him and thus doing violence to him as a person. Now he can allow the brother to exist as a completely free person, as God made him to be. His view expands and, to his amazement, for the first time he sees, shining above his brethren, the richness of God's creative glory."

A few pages later, Bonhoeffer follows this  advice with another sound strategy. He states, "The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him."

It seems like a good strategy for surviving the age of debate.

Abraham Lincoln and Bonhoeffer were of the same mind on this matter. Lincoln said, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

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